MOSCOW — Who says the NSA is the only one spying on its citizens? The FSB, the Russian successor to the Soviet KGB, already has access to all online traffic that passes through the nation’s Internet service providers. And now, the spy agency may soon begin to implement a controversial directive issued by the Ministry of Communications that would require Internet providers to record and save all digital traffic for at least 12 hours, and give the FSB direct access to the database of those records.
The information that would be recorded includes telephone numbers, IP addresses, the names of users, and email addresses of social network users. Digital network operators say that the project violates the Russian constitution, because it allows for the collection of data without a court decision.
(The collection of data of citizens is of particular interest in Russia after President Vladimir Putin granted temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, the former consultant for the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) )
In a letter to the Ministry of Communication, one of Russia’s Internet providers specified that “the directive violates rights guaranteed in the Russian constitution,” which protects the right to privacy, specifying that each person has the right to private correspondence in their letters, telephone conversations and other types of direct communication. Recording, using or disseminating the information in that correspondence without the consent of the parties is not allowed.
The letter also says the new requirements violate Russia’s current laws regulating Internet service providers, because the law does not establish a requirement for operators to purchase and use specialized technology for investigative purposes.
The directive in question, which which was first put forward last spring, still has to be approved and registered by the Ministry of Justice, though that is not expected to be a problem. It is expected to take effect at the beginning of 2014.
Google Talk and Skype locations
Under the new regulations, Internet providers would be required to attach special equipment to their networks that the Secret Services would be able to control. Internet traffic would flow through the special device, allowing the FSB to record all data that goes through it and store it for at least 12 hours. In addition to the data mentioned above, the Internet service providers would be expected to provide the physical location for people using Internet telephone services like Google Talk and Skype.
According to Yuli Tai, a partner at the Bartolius law firm, the directive not only violates the Russian constitution, but also many laws involving the criminal code and privacy. “It is already enough that law enforcement agencies have the legal and technological ability to access Internet users’ information,” Tai says. “The unlimited expansion of those abilities leads to a violation of the rights of both ordinary citizens and the subjects of investigations.”
It is also not clear who will pay for the materials and construction of a system to record so much digital traffic. By law, these costs have to be assumed by the government agency, not the service providers. If the government does not specify the source of financing for the project, it will be impossible for Internet service providers to comply with the directive by the July 1 deadline.
According to a Russian government source, Internet service providers have traditionally been expected to pay for the investigative equipment and set-ups, even though by law the government should be responsible for the costs. Some estimates put the price tag at around $100 million per year, though others say it is far less. Our source in the government acknowledges that it could be a prohibitive cost for some small companies. For example, in the United States the government compensates technology companies for expenses related to digital “wiretapping.”
Russia has had a law in place since 2008 that allows the FSB to access all Internet traffic. According to the security director at one Russian Internet company, the new directive will not actually lead to more information being sent to the security services. The main difference, he said, was that now Internet providers are required to store the data for 12 hours, whereas previously they were just expected to transmit everything directly to the FSB.
The Ministry of Communication’s press office said that questions about the law’s financing are premature. The FSB and the Ministry of Finance could not be reached for comment.